Hundreds of international firefighters and army personnel are helping fight more than 400 wildfires across B.C. on Saturday.
The B.C. Wildfire Service (BCWS) says there are 500 international firefighters in the province, helping more than 2,000 provincial personnel on the front lines. That number was boosted Friday by the arrival of 100 Brazilian firefighters.
It comes as blazes across B.C. have already set the record for most area burned during a wildfire season, surpassing the historic 2018 season with over 14,600 square kilometres burned.
Most of B.C.’s fires of note — the most visible blazes that may pose a threat to public safety — are located in the northwest.
“We don’t have all the resources that we’d like because it’s obviously such an ongoing significant effort right across B.C. and indeed the country,” said Angela Burford, an Australian wildfire information officer stationed in Vanderhoof, B.C., on Friday.
“We’re focusing our efforts on those priority fires, making sure that communities are front of mind, critical infrastructure is front of mind and, of course, life is number one.”
Upwards of 50 emergency alerts — including evacuation orders and alerts — have been issued by regional authorities across B.C. as of Saturday afternoon.
Burford and dozens of other personnel are in Vanderhoof, helping manage more than 40 blazes in the immediate vicinity. She said she was thankful for Canadian assistance during previous Australian fire seasons.
“It’s a privilege to be able to to come here and lend a hand to return the favour for those wonderful Canadians that came to help us a couple of years ago,” she said. “It’s great also equally to work alongside our international colleagues from a number of other countries that are all here to help.”
Burford said the Canadian Armed Forces were also in Vanderhoof, helping firefighters with mop-up and containment efforts so they could focus on more active fires.
Maj. Keith Hancharuk, who is with the Princess Patricia Canadian Light Infantry out of Edmonton, said the residents of Vanderhoof have been extremely grateful for the army’s support.
“People have been stopping mid-street, rolling down their windows, and thanking us for being here, striking up impromptu conversations,” he said. “Can’t say enough thanks for the people of Vanderhoof for helping us help them.”
Highway 20 closed
DriveBC says Highway 20 east of Bella Coola is closed in both directions due to a wildfire that has grown to more than 25 square kilometres in size.
The B.C. Wildfire Service says fire behaviour for the Young Creek wildfire, about 35 kilometres west of Anahim Lake, has increased due to high temperatures, low humidity and strong winds.
⛔UPDATE – <a href=” – Closed between Corbould Drive and Elsey Road for 60.2 km (13 km west of <a href=” to 19 km east of <a href=” scheduled convoy for Sat, July 22nd, 2023.<br><br>Next update: Sun Jul 23 at 9 AM PDT.<br><br>ℹ️<a href=” href=” <a href=” <a href=” <a href=”https://t.co/sNpgEL1HMh”>pic.twitter.com/sNpgEL1HMh</a>
The highway closure comes after the Cariboo Regional District issued an evacuation order for 43 square kilometres near the community of Anahim Lake on Friday and residents were told to leave immediately using the highway.
Thunderstorm watches, heat warnings in place
Officials have forecast an increase in fires in southern B.C. as cooler temperatures and rain are forecast for the province’s north.
Severe thunderstorm watches have been issued for a large swath of northern and central B.C., including Prince George, Fort Nelson and the Peace River region.
Environment Canada says hot, dry weather persists in Kamloops, Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland. Heat warnings are in place for the Boundary, Fraser Canyon, Kootenay Lake, Okanagan Valley and South Thompson regions.
Additional Heat Warning issued by <a href=” for Kootenay Lake. <a href=” Warnings remain in effect for: Fraser Canyon, Boundary, South & North Thompson & <a href=” incl. <a href=” <a href=” & <a href=” More info: <a href=”https://t.co/5hpaJmNFS5″>https://t.co/5hpaJmNFS5</a>
The St. Mary’s River wildfire northeast of Cranbrook, B.C., in the southeast has already burned through homes and led to multiple evacuation orders. On Friday, it also led to an evacuation alert for the Canadian Rockies International Airport.
Officials say small spots of the fire were observed on the east side of the Kootenay River on Saturday, and control lines north of the airport have been holding.